Much like the modern film and music industries, cellphone manufacturers generally market and cater to the young, hip and technologically fluent crowd. GreatCall continues to buck this trend with the Jitterbug Plus, which combines a durable build, easy-to-use menus and multiple emergency and wellness services aimed at baby boomers and seniors who are reluctant to give up their landlines and/or find smartphones intimidating. While the costs that come with combining the multiple services can be prohibitive, those same services can prove to be priceless in case of an emergency.
Weighing 3.8 ounces and measuring 3.9 x 2 x 0.77 inches, the Samsung-manufactured Jitterbug Plus is slightly slimmer than its predecessor (the Jitterbug J measured roughly 3.9 x 2.2 x 1 inches). Available in silver or red, the Plus is a clamshell throwback that resembles handsets of the early 2000s. It has a smooth feel and a sleek look, and its slim profile makes it quite pocket-friendly.
Volume controls are located on the left side of the phone, while the right side houses a micro USB jack for charging and a 3.5mm connector for headsets and hearing aids. The back of the phone has a hole that you can loop a lanyard cord through. Removing the battery cover proved to be difficult, but it's not something that we suspect will be done often.
When closed, a 1.3-megapixel camera is perched atop the front of the phone, while the 1.3-inch color display directly underneath gives users the date, time and indicates whether the phone is enabled with GreatCall's 5Star service (more on that later). While the megapixel count is dated by today's standards, this phone is geared toward folks who probably don't concern themselves with having a phone that's able to snap high-resolution images.
Flipping the phone's lid up reveals the Plus' 2.2-inch color screen, along with a large, clearly labeled number pad. All of the buttons, along with their labels (which sport white print), are big, making them easy to see. They're also easy to press, and are backlit in white. The layout couldn't be more simple: At the top left are buttons for Speaker and Yes, and on the right is an On/Off and a No button. An Up/Down arrow rocker buttons sits in between. Below these buttons is a standard number pad.
The phone itself sports a durable build and kept on ticking without any issues after our test drops. We evaluated the Plus' build by dropping it onto a hardwood floor from pants pocket height (about 2 1/2 feet) six times: three with the phone open, and three while it was closed.
The main menu consists of the Jitterbug logo, the user's phone number as well as 11 menu options: Phone Book, Voice Mail, My Photos, Call History, Text Messages, Phone Info, Settings, Calendar, MyWorld, 5Star and Camera. Navigating through this wonderfully simplistic interface consists of manipulating four buttons: Up arrow, Down arrow and Yes and No. Highlighting a menu prompts the phone to ask the user to "Select?" it, which one does by hitting the yes button. To cycle back to the previous menu, just hit No.
There's plenty of space and gaps around the text and graphics, making for a clear and uncluttered user experience. We would have liked to see time, signal strength and battery life indicators in the main menu; The latter two are hidden in a menu labeled "Phone Info."
Another nice throwback aspect of the Jitterbug is that, when you flip it open, the phone emits a dial tone, like a traditional landline.
This is not a phone made for texting. While we appreciate the multitude of preloaded messages, which range from "How are you?" to "I love you" to "I miss you," it's difficult to type your own custom message. The spacebar button isn't labeled at all, nor is the button that allows you to enter special characters. After some trial and error, we discovered that these buttons are # and *, respectively. We would have liked to see at least one or two that signaled distress though, in case of an emergency, or a way to save custom messages. We realize that's what the emergency and wellness apps are for, but some might be more comfortable contacting a family member or a friend depending on the situation.
Aside from the easy-to-read interface, GreatCall caters its products toward seniors through the robust health, wellness and emergency services offered with the Jitterbug Plus. One of these services is 5Star Urgent Response, which puts the caller in touch with an agent who can assist with anything ranging from providing directions to instructions on how to administer CPR. The LiveNurse service can be tapped by calling a clearly labeled number in the user's contact list, which then puts you in touch with a live, registered nurse 24/7. MedCoach will remind you when you need to take your medicine and allow you to coordinate with your pharmacy to schedule prescription refills.
Our interactions with 5Star Urgent Response, LiveNurse and customer service agents were smooth and headache-free. Regardless of which department we contacted, the average wait time to connect to an agent was less than a minute no matter what time of day or night we called. When we contacted 5Star Urgent Response, we asked the agent to add a contact to the Plus' "Phone Book" menu. The agent promptly asked us for the contact's name and number. After about 15 seconds, we were told that the contact had been added, though he cautioned that it may take up to four hours for the contact to appear in the "Phone Book" menu. Despite that, the contact appeared less than 20 minutes after the call ended. The call itself lasted roughly two minutes.
Other services include the Wellness Call, a weekly 4-5 minute motivational call, and a Check-in Call, which will call you up to six times a day and notify a friend or relative if you don't respond. Each of these services cost $4 per month.
While MedCoach is free, 5Star Urgent Response costs $14.99 per month, and LiveNurse will set you back $3.99. Both 5Star Urgent Response and LiveNurse offer a 30-day free trial, but if you opt for a number of services, the monthly rate for using a Jitterbug Plus can skyrocket quickly.
The addition of a camera along with one-touch photo sharing are both big changes when compared to the Plus' predecessor, which didn't have a camera at all. Images generally look a bit grainy, but for photo-sharing purposes, the 1.3-MP lens should suffice. Sharing an image with another caller couldn't get much easier than it is with the Plus; just navigate to the My Photos menu, select the image you want, hit Yes and either choose Forward to send it to a phone number or Facebook to post it to your Facebook account. Linking the Plus with your Facebook account is very simple and done via the GreatCall site. Users can also share photos through Picasa or Shutterfly.
Voice Quality, Ringer Volume and Battery Life
The Jitterbug Plus' idle battery life is rated at 25 days, and the company claims that the phone offers about five hours of continuous talk time. After about two days of regular use, the Plus' battery life went from a full charge down to 60 percent.
Whether using the headset or the speakerphone, calls sounded very clear over Verizon Wireless' network, even when we tested it through a tornado warning (we were indoors at the time). The maximum volume on the headset and speakerphone could be louder though, as audio can get drowned out when traversing through a busy area. The same goes for the ringer's volume.
Plans and Pricing
When combined with the multitude of medical and wellness services, owning a Jitterbug Plus can be as pricey as a regular smartphone plan. The Jitterbug Plus is currently offered from GreatCall's site for $99, plus a one-time activation fee of $35. Plans start at $14.99 per month for 50 minutes, and go up to $79.99, which gets you unlimited minutes, texting, photo sharing, voicemail, LiveNurse and the Wellness Call.
Despite the costs that can come with its services, seniors who need a simple phone to keep in touch with loved ones and contact medical help will like the Jitterbug Plus. While we wish it were easier to send custom text messages, the phone's interface was easy to navigate, and the agents we connected to were very friendly and helpful no matter what time we called. That alone could be worth the price of admission.